Norwich - At nearly 18 years old, Samantha Plympton has at least the next few years of her life planned out.
She'll graduate from Thames River Academy this evening. She'll turn 18 on June 25. And days later she'll take a national exam to become certified as a pharmacy technician.
From there, she'll get a job and go back to school to earn an associate's degree in general studies.
Her plan is to work in a pharmacy for the two years while she earns her degree, and if she enjoys the work, Plympton will continue her education to earn an advanced degree to become a pharmacist.
On a recent Thursday afternoon, Plympton rattled off her plans as if she'd known for years that this would be her course. But back in January 2009, it wasn't so clear.
Two-and-a-half years into her Norwich Free Academy career, Plympton, who lives in Norwich, left.
"There is no secret that NFA is a blue-ribbon school, but sometimes a school of that size is not the best for everybody," Thames River Academy Principal Ed Derr said.
Always an A and B student, Plympton's grades started to suffer during her junior year as she took more advanced courses.
She'd never felt at home at the large school - possibly the largest high school in the region. Plympton didn't participate in class. She kept her head down as she walked between buildings and never ate lunch in the dining hall; there were just too many people.
"I got very discouraged. I was coming home doing 5 to 6 hours of homework and nothing else. It seemed there was nothing else I could do. It got very overwhelmed. I cared about my grades. I got a 70 on a paper and started freaking out about it," Plympton said.
Then, in January 2009 it all came to a head. With her mother's support, Plympton, who had gotten to the point that her anxiety overwhelmed her, withdrew from school.
"She encouraged me to try harder, but I just got to be too stressed out. I took my exams and my mom pulled me out after that," she said of her mother, Kimberly Karwat.
Although she looked for a job while not in school, Plympton's stay outside of the classroom was not an extended one.
On May 1, 2009, she enrolled in classes at Thames River Academy, the city of Norwich's alternative high school. She was familiar with the school; her aunt, some cousins and several friends had attended.
"I wanted to come back to school. I wanted to be back in a high school," Plympton said last week.
She was nervous her first day. The anxiety of attending classes at NFA re-emerged.
With the support of her family, particularly her aunt, Kaylea Karwat, she settled down and found her groove.
The small class sizes and ability to concentrate on her studies enabled her to focus again on her coursework, she said. If she needed help, Plympton said, she met with one of her teachers during lunch or after school.
"Sam is not here for behavioral problems, and she didn't need special attention for her academics," Derr said. "She's here because of how we're able to treat our students. She can come into my office anytime if I'm not busy and sit and talk to me. We are able to provide that personal attention."
Because of the course load Plympton carried at NFA and her focus at Thames River, Plympton earned enough credits for a high school diploma a semester early, finishing school in January.
"She is a role model. She is timely in school, has a positive attitude and has completed her work," Derr said.
And as she had before, she didn't stay out of the classroom for long.
Four days later, she began courses at Three Rivers Community College to become a certified pharmacy technician. With help from her father, Jonathan Plympton, and the Maude G. and Stanford E. Derr Thames River Academy Community Leadership Scholarship Award, given in memory of Principal Derr's parents, Plympton finished her certification coursework in April.
Now she's just waiting to turn 18 to take her national exam.
"I'm kind of nervous again, but I feel prepared," Plympton said.
It's her preparedness and focus on her future that reassures Derr and her peers and teachers at Thames River Academy that once Plympton receives her diploma, there is very little that will keep her from reaching her goals.